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Medical leadership challenges differ from other fields, survey finds

A big shift has been observed in medical leadership roles.

There is a greater focus on medical leadership through formal, weighty roles. This has raised challenges for individuals and organisations in enabling medical leaders to take on these new roles in the short term.

It has also prompted the need for new thinking about how the system ensures it grows the medical leaders needed for the future. This moves beyond the issue of how to develop individuals to far broader questions of how to define and operate medical leadership roles.

To explore these issues in more detail, Hay Group conducted a survey of medical and non-medical leaders. Respondents were asked about their plans to remain in leadership roles and how confident they were that they had successors.

The results highlight a significant challenge - 45 per cent of medical leaders are uncertain about remaining in their leadership role for more than five years, while 58 per cent have little or no confidence that they have successors.

"The culture and the highly specialised nature of the medical industry lead to a limited pool of leadership and potential successors," said Panuwat Kanchanosot, a senior Hay consultant.

"There are challenges in bringing non-medical personnel to take on leadership positions. In addition, clinical work is still their main source of income, which leads to limited time spent on leadership roles, presenting barriers to succession planning. "We can see from the study that the majority - 82 per cent - of medical leaders found the role unattractive to talented potential successors."

The issues leading to a poor perception of leadership roles can be more broadly summarised in five categories:

Managing clinical work and leadership roles

Lack of time to perform the role, flexibility to manage their clinical commitments and opportunity to continue with clinical work are key detractors from taking on medical leadership roles. The impact on their time is seen as the biggest disincentive, with 90 per cent highlighting this. This reflects the theme that most medical leaders want to continue with some clinical work.

Poor relationships

Managerial support is critical in terms of good working relationships and the trust of the senior team.

Support from colleagues

While non-medical leaders identify managing challenging colleagues as a reason for why they are put off from such roles, medical leaders express this differently. This is a detractor, but not the top of their list. The support of medical colleagues is more important. Comments also highlight the difficulty in holding colleagues - both medical and non-medical - to account and being enabled to have the impact they want.

Lack of resources

The lack of broader resources to get the job done is an important detractor, particularly the lack of administrative and financial support.

Unequal status

Non-medical leaders identify pay as an issue much more strongly than medical leaders do. For medical leaders, the key issue appears to be centred on equality and the value placed on the role, both perceived and as articulated through pay and career paths.

Only focusing on leadership development is not enough to tackle the challenge of talent management and succession planning in the medical industry.

Placing a value on the role and supporting flexibility between clinical and leadership work are the key issues for attracting and developing medical leadership.

This will be critical in supporting sustainable healthcare development in the future, Panuwat said.


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